Chicharrones at Super Cocina in City Heights (San Diego) knocked my socks off, amazing

Brother Tad’s office is out in City Heights on the east side of San Diego. I went out there this morning to meet him for lunch at Super Cocina. Man, I’m here to tell you, this place ROCKS… well worth the drive and then some… I can’t remember the name of this beef stew with potatoes, a dish the owner said was from Mexico City. Anyone know?

But the chicharrones… o my goodness… the chicharrones… slowly stewed melt-in-your-mouth pork rind and tomatillos… I also had the green mole (on the right of the dish).

One of the crazy things about this family-friendly, more-than-reasonably-priced restaurant is that the owner gives you little tasting cups of any and all of the dishes in the food line. The owner knows that he’s got the good stuff and that you’re going to like it.

Highly, highly recommended… and definitely worth the drive. Thanks Brother Tad for hipping me to this awesome place!

Super Cocina
3627 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104-2316
(619) 584-6244

My 32 Days of Natural Wine post (and a note on the accompanying Latin motto on grape growing)

Why is there a photo of spiders on my blog today? You’ll have to visit my contribution to the 32 Days of Natural Wine, day 2 to find out. I wrote my post on Lewis Dickson, the only natural winemaker — to my knowledge — in Texas. Those spiders live above his cave.

In case you aren’t already hip to the 32 Days of Natural Wine, it’s one of the coolest happenings in the enoblogosphere (now in its second year) and it’s run by one of the nicest dudes in this wacky world of wine blogging, Cory Cartwright.

Cory is a friend and a greatly admired blogging colleague of mine and his writing is among the best on the internets when it comes to wine. I’ve drawn much inspiration and guidance from his blog, especially when it comes to Loire and Jura wines.

I was thrilled that he asked me to be part of the project again this year.

Please check out my post The Wild West of Natural Wine: the Texas Hill Country on winemaker Lewis Dickson and his incredible estate, Cruz de Comal.

A note on the Latin motto that opens the post

You’ll see that the post begins with a Latin motto:

    Uva uvam vivendo videndo varia fit.

    —Juvenal 2.81 (Hat Creek Cattle Company)

The strike-through is a reference to the novel by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove. In the novel, a 1985 Pulitzer-prize-winning narrative that Texans have embraced as the state’s “Gone with the Wind,” a work that “forever changed the image of Texas,” according to Texas Monthly magazine, one of the cattlemen adopts the motto as his own, even though he doesn’t know what it means. And he transcribes it erroneously (hence my strike-through).

Above: The sign used in the TV mini-series version of the novel now resides in a museum collection devoted to the book and its legacy. “It was his view that Latin was mostly for looks anyway, and he devoted himself to the mottoes in order to find one with the best look. The one he settled on was Uva uvam vivendo varia fit, which seemed to him a beautiful motto, whatever it meant. One day when nobody was around he went out and lettered it onto the bottom of the sign.” (Lonesome Dove, p. 91)

The motto itself means when one grape sees another grape [change], it changes [color]. The aphorism is akin to the contemporary saying one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch.

It comes to us via a commentator of Juvenal’s Satires (2.81).

In the second Satire, Juvenal warns Creticus about the decay of morals in Rome: “This plague has come upon us by infection, and it will spread still further, just as in the fields the scab of one sheep, or the mange of one pig, destroys an entire herd; just as one bunch of grapes takes on its sickly colour from the aspect of its neighbour.”

The author of a gloss on this passage (a commentary probably written around the 4th century B.C.E., a few hundred years after Juvenal died) points to the Latin motto uva uvam videndo varia fit as a source for the line in the satire.

Anyone who has observed the vegetative cycle of a vine knows that the grapes do not ripen all of sudden nor at the same pace. A few berries will begin to ripen and then, as if the other berries are watching their riper counterparts, the entire bunch will begin to ripen more rapidly. The same thing happens as the grapes begin to rot, hence the line in Juvenal.

I wanted to make a reference to Lonesome Dove in my post about Lewis not only because June marks the 25th anniversary of this landmark novel but because like the characters in the book, Lewis has embraced the frontier spirit: he has courageously raised the Natural Wine flag for the first time in the state.

I also liked the motto because I hope that Lewis’s “bad example” will lead and inspire other Texas winemakers to revisit (or visit for the first time) the notion of place in wine. It only takes one bad apple like Lewis to ruin the whole bunch!

Chapeau bas, Lewis!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy my post over at the 32 Days of Natural Wine, day 2.

The aura of BrooklynGuy’s table

From the “through a glass darkly” department…

Above: Anyone who reads BrooklynGuy’s blog knows the “aura” of his famous table. Tracie P took this photo of through a wonderful glass of Jura that he poured us when we visited with him and BrooklynFamily on a beautiful spring day in late May.

Alice has sat there. McDuff has sat there. Eric has sat there.

I just can’t convey the delight that flowed through my veins when Tracie P and I were invited to sit there last month while sojourning in New York City (once my home, too) in May.

For the life of me, I simply can’t remember why or how I discovered and started following BrooklynGuy’s blog. Over the course of the two years or so that I’ve been a fan, I’ve found vinous and culinary inspiration, buying guidance, good-natured humor, and an honesty and integrity of writing that are rivaled solely by the genuineness and purity of the style.

Above: There it is, the famous table, the one the appears in many of BrooklynGuy’s posts. Can you feel its aura?

But perhaps even more thrilling than the thought of sharing a glass of wine with BrooklynLady and BrooklynGuy and meeting the BrooklynChildren was the prospect of sitting at the storied table that appears in many of his posts and experiencing its aura.

The bottles that grace and graze that surface have passed the Litmus and acid tests of BrooklynGuy’s impeccable palate. It’s a classic case of Benjaminian mechanical reproduction. Through the repetitive appearance of the image of this simple wooden table in BrooklynGuy’s blog, the object itself has attained an aura that assumes its own unique meaning within the paradigm of ritualistic wine tasting.

Above: Look to BrooklynGuy’s blog for great tips in growers Champagne, the “mine field” of affordable Burgundy, and the often uncharted nuance of the Jura.

Over the course of these two years or so, BrooklynGuy’s become a friend and our visit with BrooklynFamily the other day revealed that not since Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner have two schlubs enjoyed the company of two such beautiful and simpatico wives.

Thanks BrooklynFamily for the wonderful Saturday afternoon visit, for the great wines and blog, and thanks — most of all — for the friendship.

Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.

Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.

Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)

Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve hot him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

The oil spill

Above: Facing east, looking out onto Galveston Bay at sunset on the Gulf of Mexico the other evening, in Kemah, Texas (pronounced KEE-mah). The Louisiana border is but a two-hour drive from there.

Did anyone hear the interview with Acy Cooper, vice president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association yesterday afternoon on NPR? When Tracie P and I finally got to sit down for dinner last night, we talked about the piece we both had heard.

    [Melissa] BLOCK: You know, I’m curious, yesterday, we heard a term come out of the mouth of the chairman of BP, who talked about doing better by the small people who were affected by the spill. I wonder if you heard that, and what you made of that term, small people.

    Mr. COOPER: Yeah, I was offended. We’re not small people. We are a lot bigger than they can actually imagine. We don’t need help around here. No, we’re not small. We do – we make our living on our own. We’re hardworking people. Where he get terminology of small is very offending to us. We’re all Americans and we’re not small.

Please listen to the story (you can also read the transcript there). The man in the interview talks like a lot of the folks I’ve met since I moved down to Texas. Folks I’ve met in Louisiana and in East Texas where Tracie P grew up.

I took the above photo the other day when I was down in Kemah, Texas, on the Gulf, doing a restaurant review for one of the blogs I author. The restaurant was a seafood restaurant, of course. So far, said the nice folks I met down there, the only thing that they can’t get this summer is oysters. But that’ll probably change, they said.

Please listen to the interview. And please keep all those folks in your hearts and your thoughts.

Good Italian food and wine grow in Brooklyn


Above: The Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica was just one of the killer wines poured for me and BrooklynGuy by Albano Ballerini at his excellent restaurant Aliseo Osteria del Borgo in Brooklyn. Aliseo doesn’t really have a website (although it does have a FB). Trust me: just go there and ask Albano to bring you food and wine.

May is the most beautiful month in Brooklyn. When I visited with Tracie P, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled in the springtime sunshine of Brooklyn Heights by the waterfront. And when I returned — alas, alone this time during my work week — for dinner with BrooklynGuy and Brooklyn Lady, I discovered that the sunny days of May and its temperate nights are ideal for fine wine and dining in this borough so often neglected by the gastronomically minded.


Above: This Colline Pescaresi 2008 Pecorino by Ciavolich was awesome. Originally from the Marches, owner Albano (an ex-fashion photographer) offers his patrons a tidy but impressive list of wines from the central Adriatic coast of Italy — probably the best representation of the Marches and Abruzzo I’ve seen.

I must confess that I loved everything about Albano Ballerini’s Aliseo Osteria del Borgo: the décor, the vibe, the food, and the excellent wine list. I can see why it’s become one of BrooklynGuy’s favorite haunts. Albano and chef Gustavo Fernandez seem to operate in perfect synchronicity and symphony.


Above: Handmade spaghetti alla chitarra tossed with herbs and fresh pistachios were off-the-charts good.

Who knows how many lives Albano has lived? He’s a real character (un vero personaggio) and an ex-fashion photographer who loves (and knows) great food and wine. When you enter his restaurant, you enter his world, you enter his stories, and you are bound (quite literally) to eat and drink well.


Above: Even something as simple as Gustavo’s grilled steak and pork loin was prepared and presented with such care and poetry that the experience (very reasonably priced) went from A to A+.

When I moved to Brooklyn back in 1997, there was no Al di là, Convivio, or Franny’s (these names will not be unfamiliar to anyone who watched Brooklyn’s culinary street cred grow in the late 90s and early 00s). Back then there was just Cucina on 5th Ave. (remember that joint?).

Albano is an amazing and ambitious gourmand and gourmet and a great host. His tidy wine list is probably the most interesting gathering of central Adriatic wines in this country.


Above: This 50% Montepulciano and 50% Merlot from the 2001 vintage was killer (and I do not use that term lightly where Merlot is concerned!). I’d heard of Serenelli’s wines but had never tasted them. I’d really love to taste the winery’s Rosso Conero (pronounced KOH-neh-roh btw).

Thanks again, BrooklynGuy and BrooklynLady, for hipping me to this excellent dining destination. Great stuff. Highly recommended.

Aliseo Osteria del Borgo
(no website)
665 Vanderbilt Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238-3831
(718) 783-3400

osteria del borgo

Better than the Da Vinci Code: more Santorini sleuthing!

Posting in a hurry today but just had to get this up on the blog. After I posted the other day debunking the myth that Italian Vin Santo and Greek Vinsanto are related in any other way beyond a homonymical coincidence, the chief enologist at Boutari (whose social media project is managed by me), Yannis Voyatzis, express-mailed me a wonderful volume on the wines of Santorini, which (literally) just arrived. In it, I found this wonderful reproduction of a map, printed in 1576 by a Venetian printer. As you can see above and in the detail below, in late 16th-century Venice, the Venetian name of the island Santorini was already well-established.

But more importantly, you can see that the name Santo Erini was still prevalent.

I believe that this supports my theory that the Greek appellation name Vinsanto comes from Vin[o di] Santo[erini].

I’ll have a great deal to say about this in an upcoming post. Early Venetian printing was one of the subjects of my doctoral thesis and I think I’ll have some interesting insights for the philologically inclined among us.

I’m super slammed with work today but just had to share this find asap.

Is this better than the Da Vinci Code OR WHAT???!!!! :-)

Natural wine matters

Above: The wines produced in the Sierra Foothills of California by Hank Beckmeyer and his wife Caroline are among those recommended by Eric in his blog post yesterday on Natural Wine. (I’m offering two bottlings by Hank in my wine club six-pack this month.)

With all the trimmings of a lustful post-modernist dialectic on the semiotic implications of “the other” intrinsically expressed through the exile of “self” in the production of wine, the debate over what is and what is not Natural Wine (with a capital N word) is gearing up like a Hollywood summer box office block buster.

Joking aside, the Solomon of wine blogging, Eric, has opened the flood gates with a torrent of strength equal to a Texas summer flash flood.

We’re all gearing up for Cory’s 32 Days of Natural wines, which begins in a few days (I’ll be posting, as will Jaynes Gastropub, as will Hank above, and a lot of other friends of mine).

In the meantime, I can’t recommend Lou’s posts strongly enough: while Eric is our Solomon, Lou is our Rebi Akiva.

Why I love Italian wine in flyover country (my Palate Press post)

Above: I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Gaia Gaja, Angelo Gaja’s daughter, was super fun to hang out with. I interviewed her over Chicago redhots for my PalatePress piece on my encounters with 3 iconic Italian winemakers in “second-tier” American cities.

Alfonso likes to call it “flyover” country: that glorious swath of land, that sweep of the scythe, those amber waves of grain that span from Chicago to the Rio Grande, the Middle West, Mittelamerika, the Third Coast, the Second Cities. In other words, the America that the Left and Right banks often ignore when it comes to the purveyance of fine wine and dining.

I’ll concede that I probably drank more old wine, thanks to the generosity of collectors, when I lived in cities like New York and Los Angeles. But, honestly, my food and wine life has only become more stimulating and rewarding since I moved to Austin, Texas. (Well, everything has become more stimulating and rewarding since Tracie P née B came into my life.)

Above, at dinner in Austin, from left clockwise: Tracie P, Dave Meyer (Banfi, Texas), Mark Sayre (my super good buddy and wine director Trio, Austin), Wes Marshall (The Austin Chronicle) and wife Emily, Lars Leicht (Banfi, whom I’ve known forever), and Rudy Buratti (winemaker, Banfi).

When I realized that I would be having dinner and tasting with 3 iconic Italian winemakers in 3 different “flyover” cities, over the course of just 5 days, I thought it would make a good piece for PalatePress (and thankfully so did the editors!).

Gaia Gaja of Gaja in Chicago, Rudy Buratti of Banfi (and newly elected member of the Brunello producers association 15-person advisory council) in Austin, and Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea in Houston.

Above: Another pleasant surprise was the 1999 Banfi Brunello (top vineyard) Poggio all’Oro, a wine I would not typically reach for (nor could afford). It was honest and delicious and it tasted like Montalcino. Great wine.

The fact is that top Italian winemakers are traveling more frequently to markets they’ve neglected in the past. I recently found out that Giorgio Rivetti (producer of the infamously created-just-for-the-American-market, jammy, syrupy, ridiculously concentrated Spinetta wines) visited Austin last month. “It’s not often enough that a true gentlemen like Giorgio spends time in Texas,” wrote one wine blogger/merchant.

This is certainly one of the reasons I’ve been lucky enough to have some interesting wine encounters lately.

But then again, as the jingle for the ol’ So Cal franchise Love’s Wood Pit BBQ used to go, when you’re in Love’s, the whole world’s delicious.

Special thanks to Palate Press editor Meg Houston Maker for believing in the piece and eagle-eye editor Becky Sue Epstein for whipping my piece into shape! :-)

Tracie P’s sfincione was amazing

Above: Last night we hosted the first couple of the Austin wine scene, Craig and April Wright Collins. Tracie P truly outdid herself with her cooking.

To borrow a phrase from friend and colleague Charles Scicolone, whose wife Michele is one of the best cooks I know, “I am truly blessed.”

Tracie P simply outdid herself last night with the dishes she prepared for a dinner party we threw.

Ever since cherished family friend Mrs. Reynolds (above) made us a sfincione to celebrate our then upcoming wedding (back in December), Tracie P has wanted to make this classic savory pie from Sicily.

That’s Tracie P’s, above, on the pizza stone we received for our wedding (thanks, Aunt Holly and Uncle Terry!). Did I mention that I’m blessed?

She also made a wonderful olive oil cake for dessert. Yum…

The 2005 Barolo Ca’ Mia by Brovia was stunning. (Check out Cory’s awesome post on Brovia here.)

That’s all I got time for this morning… gotta run… thanks for reading!

BBQ Capital of Texas ERGO THE WORLD

Yesterday, I finally made it down to Lockhart, Texas, historic Texas small town and the barbecue capital of Texas, “ergo the world,” as my buddy Josh Cross put it. Chef Josh is a Texan through and through but he’s also lived and worked in New York and traveled and eaten his way through Europe. I’d been angling for some time to do a ‘cue crawl with him.

Now, let me tell you, people, when the folks in Lockhart say they reside in the barbecue capital of Texas, they ain’t kidding…

First stop was the legendary Smitty’s Market, just one of the triad Black’s, Kreuz, and Smitty’s. It never ceases to amaze me how idiosyncratic Texas barbecue is: even though everyone is working with the same basic ingredients (brisket, beef rib, pork rib and loin, pork sausage) and cooking techniques (“low and slow” smoking), the expressions of the Texas bbq canon vary as widely as the people who do the cooking. In other words, everyone and every venue offers a distinctly personalized interpretation (the only thing consistent at each eatery is the swagger!).

Smitty’s is known for the juicy, untrimmed fat of its brisket. The smoked brisket and smoked prime rib were unbelievably good but the sausage… o the sausage… perfection…

Of all the bbq joints I’ve visited, Smitty’s is the most impressive for its atmosphere. On the weekend, folks wait hours on line in the smoking room itself, an “inferno,” where the raging fires are literally a span’s length from the chow line. We took our place in line at 11:30 and it took 45 minutes to reach the carving board.

The main dining room (above) is full of happy families and well-behaved children whose good manners are rewarded by the comfort food of all comfort foods (and Blue Bell ice cream for dessert).

There are plastic knives and spoons in the Smitty’s dining room but no forks: you eat the beans and other sides (potato salad, cole slaw, etc.) with the spoon but everything else is consumed religiously with one’s fingers.

I took this photo of chopped Live Oak in the Smitty’s wood pile. Josh explained how Live Oak is essential to central Texas bbq because it burns very hot but without releasing a lot of oil as Mesquite does. 90% Live Oak and 10% Mesquite, he said, is the ideal blend of wood types.

Over the weekend, Austin (about 45 minutes northwest from Lockhart) played host to the Republic of Texas Biker Rally 2010 and so there were bikers everywhere, from every walk of life, like this couple Marc and Kat, who sat next to us at Black’s. (For the record, whenever I photograph strangers for the blog, I always ask permission, just in case they’re wanted by the law.)

The beef rib at Black’s was simply amazing. The smokiness and dry rub had gently penetrated the meat, giving it a wonderful savoriness and spice, and it was so tender that you could cut it easily with a plastic nice (look how even the plastic sliced it!).

But the brisket at Black’s… o my goodness, the brisket… Here, the brisket has been smoked for so long that the smoke ring is entirely black and the meat is so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. Of all the truly delicious things I ate yesterday, the brisket at Black’s was the dish that really blew me away… amazing stuff…

We never did make it to Kreuz Market yesterday but I promise I will before summer’s end in a gesture of purely selfless altruism in order to satisfy your insatiable culinary curiosity.

I’m sure that BrooklynGuy would approve of my self-sacrifice for your gastronomic well-being!

Buona domenica, ya’ll! (That means, “enjoy your Sunday,” for those of you who don’t speak eyetalian.)